Should Liverpool take the money and run with El Jefe?

After failing to sign a new contract and revealing that he is currently learning Italian, Javier Mascherano has cast huge doubts over his Liverpool future. The 26-year-old midfielder, who angled for a move to Spanish champions Barcelona last summer, is thought to be a top transfer target for newly-appointed Inter Milan manager Rafael Benitez. The Argentine has expressed a keen desire to reunite with his former manager, having stated of Benitez that “his football is my football.” With team-mate Yossi Benayoun rumoured to be close to sealing a switch to Chelsea, the upcoming summer at Anfield looks as though it will be one more of departures than arrivals. Should the Argentine leave, how a big a blow would his loss be for Liverpool?

Having been rescued from West Ham United’s reserves in early 2007, Javier Mascherano has become an integral first-team player at Anfield, racking up 135 appearances for the Merseyside club. Alongside current Real Madrid man Xabi Alonso, Mascherano formed one half of one of the most effective midfield partnerships in Europe, with the Argentine’s tenacity and grit allied perfectly with the Spaniard’s vision and creativity. Whilst Alonso is more renowned for his intelligent and measured approach to the art of defensive midfield play, Mascherano has built a reputation as one of the most accomplished ‘destroyers’ in the world today. El Jefe’s performances for Liverpool have been characterised by his passion, energy and single-minded determination to win the ball.

Mascherano’s world class abilities have been recognised by Argentine national team manager Diego Maradona, who appointed Mascherano as captain almost immediately after being named manager himself. Maradona has even stated that his team-sheet is “Mascherano and ten other guys”, such is his importance to the national side.

Having posed the question regarding Mascherano’s departure to several other Liverpool fans (most notably via 606 and the club’s official forum), it appears as though Mascherano may not be as indispensable as the likes of Torres, Gerrard and Reina. Whilst many have acknowledged that Mascherano is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, several Reds fans have made the point that the former River Plate man is replaceable. Unlike Torres’ unrivalled acceleration and finishing ability, or Gerrard’s all-round ability and talismanic leadership, Mascherano’s strongest traits and attributes can be replaced, especially as most teams these days tend to deploy the use of at least one dedicated midfield ‘destroyer’.

In addition to this, Reds fans have also pointed to some of Mascherano’s flaws. The Argentine’s impotency in front of goal has been highlighted, having scored just three goals in his time at Anfield. Similarly, Mascherano’s hot-headed, temperamental nature has at time been to the detriment of his side, most notably during a fixture against Manchester United in 2008, where his behaviour earned him a first-half red card.

Despite this, Mascherano is undoubtedly a world-class midfielder, and he will be sorely missed at Anfield. Should he leave, it is imperative that the club replace the Argentine as swiftly as possible, so as to avoid the situation that occurred last season with the failure to adequately replace Xabi Alonso. At the beginning of last season, Mascherano’s form dipped due to the fact he had had his head turned by interest from Barcelona; it is important that the club avoid a repeat of this scenario, and it seems evident that Mascherano would rather be elsewhere. Providing the rumoured £30m fee that Mascherano’s sale would generate is given to the club’s management for reinvestment, I feel that El Jefe’s departure would not be as big a blow as initially feared.

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